Friday, May 30, 2014

Reapplying to Med School Means Changing Up Your Approach

While the current application cycle approaches its final stages, another begins with the next group of wide-eyed #medschool hopefuls, carrying more dreams of scrubs, stethoscopes and surgery rooms. Within the incoming wave of applicants, perhaps no one knows how competitive the medical school application process is more than unsuccessful applicants.

Less than 45% of 2013-14 applicants were accepted into medical school. So as the AMCAS application opens for submissions in less than a week (June 3), some of the more persistent applicants are preparing to go through the process for a second—even a third—time.

While having to reapply can surely be frustrating, consider this an opportunity to learn from your missteps and show your commitment to medicine. For those looking to reapply, improving your chances of matriculating may require you to simply reflect and react

REFLECT
If you applied to medical school and were not admitted, some personal time for self-assessment is a must. Hopefully, you've taken time to thoroughly explore the profession, as to fully understand the special demands needed to be successful in medical school.

If you understand those demands and still want to get into medical school, the ability to look back and critique your approach is an important step. As difficult as it may seem, it's vital to be self-aware about where your application is lacking.

How can you improve your application if you don't know what exactly needs to be improved?

An honest self-assessment will guide you through the appropriate stages in strengthening your application's weaknesses. Consider the various different portions of the application and take a magnifying glass to each one. Here are some questions to consider, based on common problem areas:

  • Could your MCAT score be higher?
  • Should you enroll in a graduate or post-bacc program to strengthen your GPA and/or meet all the necessary premedical requirements?
  • Could your interviews have been more effective?
  • Do you lack significant volunteer and/or clinical experience?
  • Could you write a stronger personal statement?

Your strategy moving forward lies in the answers to these questions, so taking a hard look now can mean a beneficial outcome later.

Some schools may even offer some sort of feedback, such as a file review. A file review is where the school, at the request of the applicant, reviews the application and details why they were not accepted. There may also be premed or undergraduate academic advisers at your undergraduate institution willing to help.

Just as some schools will help you reflect, some can help you moving forward. The MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) Office of Admissions, for instance, offers a Self-Assessment Guide, which allows unsuccessful CHM applicants to meet with an admissions adviser upon submission. While our advisers cannot go over the details of your application or why you were not accepted, advisers will go over your self-assessment guide with you to develop a new direction.

For additional information, please see the AMCAS application webpage.

REACT
While we know this is not the most desirable position to be in, understand that plenty of medical students were reapplicants. It can be done.

However, do not make the mistake of reapplying with the same exact application unless you want to see the same results. Here are some actions you can take to strengthen your application, again, based on common problem areas.

Expand
An advantage of being a reapplicant is that you have more time to fit in additional experiences. This is especially important for those lacking a significant amount of exposure to clinical and/or research activities.

Yet even if you have a good amount of experiences, expanding your resume to some degree should be on the agenda. Schools expect to see both leadership and patient-related activities on your application so it helps to acquire more. Summer is right around the corner—a great time to volunteer.

More experiences can even help you write a stronger personal statement. Read on...

Rewrite
Reapplying to medical school means going through the whole process again, including the personal statement. As we've mentioned in past posts, the personal statement can potentially be a huge factor in deciding who receives an interview.

One of the things you do not want to do is submit the exact statement you submitted in the last cycle. Schools will know and see through an application that has not improved.

Instead, use this experience to differentiate your next personal statement from your last. Consider how being an unsuccessful applicant has changed your perspective. What have you learned? What are you doing to improve?

The personal statement offers a great opportunity to show your resilience as well as your ability to reflect.

While submitting your application early is important, it may be better to wait a bit if you feel you need more time to ensure your personal statement is as solid as can be.

Enhance
It may be a good idea to review recent GPA and MCAT average ranges in order to see where you fall. If it is clear that your academic record was a contributing factor to you not getting accepted, take time to consider entering a graduate or post-baccalaureate program, especially if your profile was weak in the sciences.

Understanding in which percentiles your academic profile falls also gives you a guide to determine which schools' applicant pools you would be competitive in. Otherwise, strengthening your academic background before an official acceptance may take time.

If you received any interviews last cycle, chances are your academics may not be the main issue. So, without receiving any acceptances, you may need to work hard at sharpening your interview skills. This time around, you know what to expect.

Lastly, it may be worthwhile to think about your letters of recommendation. Consider your sources and decide whether to utilize the same people for this next round, as you'll need new letters. Make sure you do your best to use sources that can provide not only a positive recommendation, but a detailed one.

Patience is most certainly a virtue when it comes to medical school admissions. Many rejected applicants do not reapply so be aware that you can earn a lot of admiration from an admissions committee by combining an ability to reflect on your weaknesses with a drive to address them.

Persistence can go a long way.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

4 Things To Consider When Finalizing Your Personal Statement

The AMCAS application for the 2014-2015 cycle is now open and accepts official submissions on June 3. While we're sure a good number of applicants may have finished their personal statements already, there may still be a few with some finalizing to do.

Some applicants may have written a few drafts yet are looking for ways to polish their statements. The personal statement, after all, is one of the most important portions of an applicant's review.

As MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) admissions advisor, Brian Ulrich, points out, "The personal statement is where applicants can demonstrate the personal characteristics and attributes that are required in medical school. Many applicants will have great MCAT scores and a solid GPA. The statement helps set people apart."

We hope that by now you've written a draft or two. So if you're looking to tighten it up or round it out, here are some things to consider to ensure you'll have a solid personal statement.

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Is it about you?
It goes without saying but make sure your statement is about you. Does it reflect enough of your character? Remember that you are creating a mental image of yourself for the reader.

Each reviewer is looking for sets of characteristics that differ from school to school. An attractive applicant is subjective to each school's philosophy, so the general consensus is simply not to try to be anything you're not.

Still, attributes like maturity, compassion, professionalism, and ambition are characteristics universally enjoyed. Lead the reader to draw these traits directly from your accomplishments and experiences.

There are many views and opinions on how your statement should best be written to showcase your character. Ulrich admits, "There's no cookie-cutter way to write it, but there are fundamental ways to effectively tell your story."

He insists that applicants not be overly formal in their writing, but do be aware of your colloquialisms. The goal is to share your own, personal voice with a professional tone.

Components of a Statement
Is your personal statement all over the place? Here are five components that can help bring it all together.

Structure
Structure refers to how you choose to present the information. Ensuring your statement flows enhances the ability to understand what you are trying to get across.

A good structure to your statement could mean having the first paragraph introduce you and your theme while the second, third, and fourth introduces experiences/lessons via a story. The fifth and final paragraph can tie it all in, summarizing the theme while demonstrating what this all means—why you are interested in medicine.

Theme
The theme is the main point of your statement. As the underlying foundation for each paragraph, your theme is a general idea that provides perspective.

You may have heard a number of opinions on the importance of being unique. Rather than focusing so much on trying to be unique, it's important you tell a story that is personal and relevant.

Engage the reader from the start. Making sure each part of your essay helps tell your own story is key to creating a memorable application.

If your theme doesn't currently represent you or how you've come to be interested in medicine, it's suggested you change it to one that does. Your theme should do well to represent you because it's genuine, which can help you transition to other relevant aspects of your life.

Frame
While the theme is a general idea, the frame of your essay will shape the writing with details—places, people, reactions, etc. Many applicants will bring up stories upon stories of how they came to be interested in medicine. Yet it's better to choose one or two significant experiences to really elaborate on.

Depth is key.

"A big take-home for applicants to remember is that the statement is an opportunity for reviewers to know you on a deeper level. Without depth, it's hard to know why their story matters," said Ulrich.

The objective is to make sure the reader learns more about you rather than just what you've done. How have your experiences influenced you?

By framing the statement with an anecdote, you provide immediate access to your past and how you came to desire becoming a physician. Use strong verbs and an active voice. Paint a picture to make your statement as vivid as possible, as engaging as possible.

Strong descriptions and explanations show you've put thought into your experiences. Introspection is important, as we will get to further down in the post.

Strong Transitions
How well does your statement flow?

One way to check for clear transitions is to make sure the first sentence of every paragraph is somehow related to your last sentence in the previous paragraph. With a strong theme and frame, transitions should come easily.

Lead the reader through your enlightening, so they can understand, step-by-step, how you've come to desire a career in medicine.

Concluding Observation
"Applicants should have the ability to convey why medical school is a good fit for them based on experiences in their life and what they've gained," Ulrich points out. "It is of great benefit for the applicant to show an ability to reflect."

Does your statement offer some reflection? If not, it may be a good idea to restate your theme and show how it has evolved over time, perhaps from a specific lesson. How will these lessons continue to serve you in medical school? As a doctor?

Thoughtful and reflective decisions, not an instantaneous realization, should result in your current interest in medical school.

Your experiences and how you reflect on those experiences should help explain your passion for medicine. The journey of that growth will help set you apart. We mentioned you shouldn't concentrate on being unique simply for the sake of sounding unique. Again, depth is the key to being a memorable applicant.

Showing some reflection confirms you've given serious thought to medical school
Proofread Before You Submit
Time should also be devoted to thoroughly proofreading your essay. The application does not have spellcheck so once you submit your application, the essays cannot be edited. Submit the essay with typos and medical schools will be able to see them.

Writing a solid statement may require some patience and that's perfectly okay.  Take your time to ensure you're putting the best foot forward, so to speak. Again, the majority of medical school applicants will have pretty good MCAT scores and a nice GPA. The written portion of the AMCAS is where you can make a big splash.

Good luck!

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